Startup Will Integrate Palm in Car

To advance the idea, the company announced a new venture on Wednesday along with Delphi Automotive Systems and the Mayfield Fund to develop a voice-activated platform for accessing the Web, making phone calls and interacting with Palm's applications from a car.

The new company, MobilAria, plans to offer an open-service platform that integrates handheld computers, mobile phones and Delphi Automotive Systems hardware so that people can access personalised information, Internet content in their cars, officials of the three stakeholders said in a conference call.

"The vision of this company ... was structured around Delphi for their automotive technology, Palm for their mobile and handheld solutions and, when it came time, Mayfield for their Silicon Valley expertise," said Tom O'Gara, co-founder of MobileAria. "MobilAria is best positioned to grab first-mover status in this market."

Quoting statistics from analyst group USB Warburg LLC, O'Gara said the estimated market size for in-vehicle communications will grow to about $US26 billion by 2005. MobilAria intends to take advantage of the distribution channels already established by Palm and Delphi Automotive Systems.

During the conference call a MobilAria official demonstrated a prototype of the system, which uses voice recognition and text-to-speech "read back" of written data for hands-free access to information. The initial subscription-based service will be offered using Delphi's Communiport Mobile Productivity Centre, an Ericsson mobile phone and a Palm V handheld. The Palm slides into a stand that is integrated into the car's cigarette lighter, for power, and the car's radio, which provides audio playback on an unused radio station.

Eventually, other mobile phones and handheld computers will be compatible with the platform.

One of the differentiators of the system will be that the driver's hand stay on the wheel and his or her eyes stay on the road all the time, said J.T. Battenberg III, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Delphi Automotive Systems.

Voice-activated access and management of personalised content, such as calendars, e-mail and address books, will help make North Americans more productive during the estimated 500 million cumulative hours they spend in their cars, O'Gara said.

The platform also will be able to synchronise the Palm with the users desktop PC and access general information, including news, weather, stock quotes, flight information, directions and traffic information. Eventually, MobileAria intends to provide enhanced multimedia content, including streaming audio and video, mobile commerce, stock trading and rich messaging.

MobileAria expects to launch the initial in-vehicle platform and subscription service nationally during the second quarter of 2001. Officials said it will be possible to integrate the system into any car, including those already on the road. Officials declined to discuss what networks the services will use and the cost of the service.

Delphi Automotive, which spun off of General Motors in May 1999, is the world's largest auto parts marker.

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Margret Johnston

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